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It is a serious topic muddled by a numbers game. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office said there are hundreds of unanswered sexual abuse allegations against catholic priests. Chicago’s archbishop, Cardinal Blasé Cupich, who is at the Vatican for a summit on sex abuse, said there were only five credible cases last year nationwide. And while there are still failures that are unacceptable, there is progress when you look closely at the number of abusive priests.

“Making this a priority that comes from the heart not just in regulations and laws,” Cardinal Blasé Cupich said.

An explosive report by then Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in 2018 revealed clergy sex abuse of minors in Illinois is significantly more extensive than previously reported. The six Illinois dioceses handed over 185 allegations. Madigan’s office found the number could be as high as 500 dating back to 1960. But despite the large numbers in the AG preliminary report, only 10 of the confirmed cases in Chicago occurred after 2002, that’s when the charter for the protection of children and young people called for immediate reporting of sex abuse. That lower number is consistent with the progress reported by the center for applied research in the apostolate.

“From the 70s to now, it’s maybe five a year throughout the entire us with 70 million Catholics of abuse claims,” Cupich said.

And when allegation come in, Cupich says he acts swiftly.

“Since 2002 we have reported all allegations,” he said. “Even if they have not been founded or substantiated to the police.  And we are going to continue to do that.”

That played out last fall in Chicago when a young man made an accusation against Rev Gary Graf. The Deptarment of Children and Family services found the allegation was not credible. Chicago police launched their own inquiry. The case went to trial, where a judge found Graf was not guilty. He said he endured the process to make sure no victims go unheard.

“The only way you are going to be able to deal with that in fairness to everybody is to have a process and follow it strictly,” Cupich said.

In a letter to the Holy Father, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said only certain actions can right the wrongs of abuse by clergy. Identify and punish priests who knowingly covered up past abuses, encourage people to make allegations directly to law enforcement not church leaders. And have church leaders turn over all past files.

Larry Antonsen is a victim survivor whose abuser was never charged before he died. He shared his story WGN News and recalled a trip he took alone with a priest from his high school, St. Rita on Chicago’s South Side. He was 15.

“Words don’t mean anything unless there’s action behind those words,” he said. “I was sexually abused by a high school priest that I had in class. I completely blocked it out of my mind.”

But in 2006, while at a Catholic retreat, the memory of that night came flooding back.

“This never goes away. I don’t think the pain ever completely goes away.”

“This happens all over the world, and so (Pope Francis) won’t tolerate that,” Cupich said.  “He wants to make sure that everybody is on board as a priority in the life of the church.”


WGN News coverage of the sex abuse meeting begins Wednesday, with reports from the Vatican. Cardinal Cupich calls the event the beginning of worldwide reform.